It’s hard to know who to root against in the bloggers vs. CNN controversy that led to the resignation of CNN’s Eason Jordan, a twenty-three-year veteran of the network. Right-wing bloggers speak of themselves as having replaced the mainstream media. And while it is impossible to generalize about the global blog phenomenon (indeed, in May 2002 I started an edited MSNBC weblog, www.altercation.msnbc.com), one thing you can say about bloggers is that they are not professional journalists–unless, of course, they also happen to be professional journalists.
This is both a good and a bad thing. The MSM operate with countless blinders, and plenty of people with specialized knowledge enjoy the capacity to invigorate the MSM’s frequently brain-dead discourse. The analysis of US Middle East policy one finds on Juan Cole’s blog is consistently superior to what usually appears in the MSM; ditto Brad DeLong on economic policy. The blog Left2Right offers a host of intelligent contributions from the world of academic philosophers. The list goes on and on.
Sometimes a fresh eye and a willingness to hammer away at the same topic from different angles can also be salutary. Dozens of journalists heard then-Senate majority leader Trent Lott celebrate legalized segregation, but it took journalist Joshua Micah Marshall and economist Duncan Black, a k a Atrios, to force them to recognize the racism of his remarks.
Moreover, while the MSM machers have traditionally played the role of gatekeeper, keeping malevolent nuts out of the public square, they have undeniably fallen down on the job of late. It was on CNBC’s Kudlow & Cramer that the satanic spawn Ann Coulter was invited to giggle about how nice it would be if the US military really were deliberately murdering journalists.
Part of the problem was the cowardice of Jordan and CNN in failing to stand up to the baying hounds. Jordan, CNN’s chief news executive, observed at an off-the-record meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos in late January that he believed the US military had aimed at journalists and killed twelve of them. He backpedaled immediately and later explained that he “never meant to imply US forces acted with ill intent.” (We can’t know for sure what he said, because neither Jordan nor the assembled Masters of the Universe will release the videotape, but David Gergen, who moderated the event, explained, “He was trying to say there is no official policy from the United States government to allow the killing of journalists and that his concern was whether troops on both sides especially American troops here in this particular case we’re talking about were careful enough….”)
Jordan sent a note to colleagues saying he quit to “prevent CNN from being unfairly tarnished by the controversy.” This is silly. There’s nothing wrong with a global news organization weathering “controversy.” In fact, it’s good for ratings. What CNN really feared was something it will not acknowledge: a know-nothing right-wing political tsunami–fueled by blogs–that drowns whatever it finds objectionable in a sea of self-righteous bullshit. (Dan Rather sacrificed himself to these forces like a virgin jumping feet first into a volcano.) Together with the likes of Coulter, Limbaugh, Hannity, O’Reilly, etc., the right-wing blogs are making it impossible for anyone in public life to speak about any issue without risk to his or her reputation should he or she deviate ever so slightly from the “Bush/America good, liberals/rest of world bad” dichotomy.